I can’t make up my mind. Does the new 2021 Hyundai Kona look like some kind of cartoon whale? Or, is the connection just coming from the Surfy Blue tone our Kona Elite is coloured in? I’m not sure.
Coming from a segment where interesting design is a common theme, the new 2021 Kona does a solid job of setting itself apart from the previous generation. The same combination of eyebrows and headlights persists up front, but it’s now a bit more of a caricature – cartoonish and cute.
As part of Hyundai’s current onslaught of new metal hitting showroom floors, one of the Korean brand’s most bread-and-butter models, and something of a perennial favourite in the small-SUV segment, the Kona will appreciate the update to fight against a slew of new competition.
|2021 Hyundai Kona Elite|
|Engine||2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||110kW @ 6200rpm, 180Nm @ 4500rpm|
|Transmission||Continuously variable automatic (CVT)|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||6.2L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.2L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Five-star (2017)|
|Warranty (years/km)||Five years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Mazda CX-30, Skoda Kamiq, Kia Seltos, Toyota C-HR|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$31,600|
Along with new N-Line variants and a new look, the 2021 Kona also gets new tech, updated powertrains and more safety features.
The 2.0-litre 'SmartStream’ petrol four-cylinder engine is new, but carries the same displacement and peak figures as the last one: 110kW at 6200rpm and 180Nm at 4500rpm running through a CVT automatic gearbox to the front wheels.
I didn’t spend my time in the old Kona, but I did walk away from this new 2021 Kona – equipped with the 2.0-litre non-turbo engine – impressed.
While it’s easier to be excited and impressed about motors with fancy dual-clutch gearboxes and forced-induction motors, I’d hazard a guess that this engine will supply anything and everything one needs, with plenty of refinement and efficiency at the same time.
Perhaps it comes from the dual continuously variable camshafts and two-stage intake manifold, or the new (also continuously variable) transmission, but the 2.0-litre Kona felt torquey, flexible and responsive across the board.
It’s no rocketship, but there is enough power on tap for town and country driving alike. The tachometer rarely needs to travel above three grand unless you’re pegging it hard. Then, it redlines itself mercilessly for acceleration in true CVT fashion.
The transmission is otherwise stepped to feel like a seven-speed auto and is a dutiful companion, without any aberrations of character to worry about. And with relatively meagre overall power outputs, the Kona has no trouble with wheel spin for regular driving in normal conditions.
For 98 per cent of its operation, it’s a quiet and proficient powertrain, and only starts to hum noisily when revving hard.
Although it’s front-wheel drive only, the Kona does have a small selection of low-traction driving modes to help put power down (and minimise wheel spin) in sand, mud and snow. Although, we can’t attest to how effective these might or might not be, as we stuck to the blacktop for our review.
Inside, our Elite specification is the first in the line-up to get the uprated 10.25-inch infotainment display. Lower specs make do with only 8.0 inches. There is also an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon premium sound system in this specification, but the later 10.25-inch head-up display is kept for Highlander and N Line Premium models. Subjectively and anecdotally, the sound system seems to be a worthy upgrade.
This specification means we didn’t get the same dramas that Josh experienced with the smaller infotainment system in lower-specced Konas, and (in my case) Android Auto worked without any issue.
The only complaint I can level at this system – whose size and wide ratio look resplendent across the dashboard – is that smartphone mirroring only uses part of the screen closer to the passenger. It just seems a shame to lose full use of the screen, I reckon.
Otherwise, the cabin of the Kona is smart-looking and easy to live with. An electric handbrake and push-button start tidy things up, and power comes via two 12V outlets, one USB and an inductive charging pad. The latter is now standard across the 2021 Kona range.
Storage is par for the course in the segment, with a decent centre console, two cupholders, storage in the doors, and a handy slot for your wallet.
The second row allowed us to sneak the baby seats in without much room left over, which is typical for the segment. And the boot, measuring in at 371L, is also decent and comes with an elastic net, plus it hides a space-saving spare wheel underneath.
Thanks to the Australianised ride and handling program that Hyundai developed for the Kona – which carries over from the pre-facelifted model – the facelifted model continues to carry few negatives in its deportment. Either around town or on the highway, it’s got a nice balance of comfort and control, with a playful edge. The steering in particular feels alert and eager.
A 10.6m turning circle combines well with the visibility and a decent-quality reversing camera to make it easy to operate in town.
One benefit of the Kona Elite in this regard is the 17-inch wheel package shod in our case with Nexen tyres. Higher-specced Konas get better-branded rubber, and Josh’s initial drive did note better grip from this in his time. However, the trade-off of extra wheel diameter – looks aside – could yield a loss of ride compliance.
Elite specification is the first in the Kona range to get the full suite of active safety and convenience features, with models down a rung or two missing out on some stuff.
Autonomous emergency braking, with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection detection, operates via a radar in the grille and camera in the windscreen. As does adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go), blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and safe-exit warning.
Despite having rear parking sensors, the Kona and Kona Active miss out on those last two features (amongst others).
Hyundai’s five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty is good, and servicing comes every 10,000km or 12 months, but Hyundai is yet to update its pre-paid service schedule for the 2021 Kona. Although, we’d expect it to be as competitive as the previous model.
Considering the full suite of active safety and upgraded infotainment inside, the Elite specification might be the smart pick of the 2021 Kona range. Prices have risen up by $1000 since the facelift, but the increased specification means your money is going somewhere other than just profit.
Although the facelift doesn’t rewrite any rule books, the 2021 Kona builds upon a solid segment offering and adds important safety features that allow it to stand neck-and-neck with other small SUVs.
Like I’ve written before, competition in this part of the automotive world is fierce, and buyers are endowed with many fine options to choose from. If I were buying, this new Kona would definitely be on the short list.
However, it's also worth pointing out that the Kona is noticeably more expensive than Hyundai's own i30 sedan and hatch, without having any radically improved space or packaging. Some call it the SUV tax, but it hasn't seemed to blunt our appetite for these road-going small SUVs.